One of the unspoken forms of violence against women and girls in Nigeria is the disinheritance from their spouses and father’s properties. Women and girls who go through this challenge do not speak up against it due to the fact that it seems reasonably correct that a girl should not inherit or a boy has more rights to inherit his father’s property than she does. The disinheritance of women and girls increases their economic disadvantage which significantly contributes to the underdevelopment of a society.
Gaining Ground is a programme focused on the Issue of inheritance for women and girls in Nigeria and it comes up every Monday by 10.45am on Kapital FM 92.9, Abuja, Nigeria. It is a series of stories told by women and girls in their real locations across the six geo-political zones of Nigeria, highlighting their real experiences and challenges in trying to get their inheritance. It is a project supported by the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) under the Howard Buffet Fund for Women Journalists.
Gaining Ground draws attention to the fact that the statutory law of Nigeria gives equal treatment to every person whether male or female and also states that everyone has a right to own property. In-spite of this the challenge of disinheritance of women and girls continues due to other factors like, family beliefs, illiteracy, societal perception or fear of other forms of attack from extended family members.
The Producer of Gaining Ground, Ehizogie Ohiani, Principal Producer at Kapital FM and IWMF Grantee, explains that this project has been an opportunity to explore a collection of in-depth stories of women and girls across Nigeria on an important but underreported issue.
She shares some of her key findings after speaking with diverse women across the country on inheritance.
1. Women are afraid of speaking up about their issues of disinheritance because of the feared impact speaking up might have on their children and this restrains them from fighting for their inheritance.
2. Some women believe family members can attack them spiritually if they try to fight back for their inheritance.
3. The value placed on the male child makes many women to keep having children with the hope to have a son who will inherit their father’s property rather than his brothers. This increases risks of health problems for women and also over population.
4. Many customs have a portion of property for the children of the deceased especially for the sons, but most customs do not have any portion for the wife.
5. Many women have no confidence in the state authorities, like police or social welfare, to fight for their rights due to the fact that they are mostly referred back to their homes to settle such matters, because it is regarded as a family matter.
6. Many women believe that God will fight for them and many really have no other choice.
7. Many women feel they will be viewed by family and society as having too much love for material things, if they challenge family members for their husband’s or father’s property.
8. Muslims in Nigeria generally share inheritance according to Islamic dictates.
9. Wills are not usually discussed by couples and a woman is viewed in a distrustful manner, if she brings up the issue with her spouse.
10. The customary laws that disinherit women and girls were made by men not necessarily by the gods.
11. Many people choose the aspects of the customary laws and religious practices that favour their financial benefits to disinherit women and girls from their spouses’ and father’s property.
As put by Mrs. Maria Omozele Edeko, the Chair Person of International Federation of Female Lawyers, (FIDA) Edo Chapter, in one of the episodes of Gaining Ground, “There is no way we can sail through with the reform of these customs if women are not in those houses of assembly. This native law and custom, we take bills to the houses of assembly, they are thrown out. Women really need to wake up. Nobody can do it for you. You’ve got to do it for yourselves”. She said that 35 percent representation in the houses of assembly in across Nigeria would be a huge gain for women.
Although some states in Nigeria have passed the laws prohibiting women from all forms of inhuman treatment after the loss of their spouses, this project has drawn attention to the fact that women need to be more involved in policy making in order to influence the required change. It also show the fact that inheritance is a gift and gifts are given to loved ones. If women are loved, then they should not be dis-inherited.